My Trip to a Chinese Spa
by Maureen Minnick Dienno
I was an expat living in China from August 2003 until March 2007.
I love a good massage. I lived in China two months before I had the opportunity to experience a real massage at an authentic Chinese Spa. Wee Li (my husband’s youthful looking female co-worker) who invited me to be her guest at a brand new, first class spa. I was thrilled! Wee Li asked if I had ever been to a spa before, and I played it safe by answering, “Not here in China.”
Although Wee Li is Chinese, she lived in the US for quite some time. I assumed… I trusted… I hoped that her knowledge of both US and Chinese customs would prompt her to alert me of anything I might find out of the ordinary. I was wrong.
Now before I go any further with my story, I need to point out two important pieces of information. First, the air conditioning in China is poor at best. Everywhere you go, the indoor temperature is a warm 87 degrees. Everywhere except when you are naked—or would be without the tiny towel barely wrapped around you—in which case, they drop the temperature to a freezing 49 degrees.
Secondly, when I mention that Wee Li (and every other patron at this spa) is Chinese, I imply a body weight of 69lbs (soaking wet) and height of maybe 4’ 3” tall. I, on the other hand, am 5’10”, a Big Bird so to speak, which is really uncommon in Asia.
That said I shall continue my story…
So upon arriving, we each went to shower then planned to meet inside the sauna.
I get to the sauna and see three women; I knew right away Wee Li was not the old lady with the dropped towel and sagging skin. The other two were a bit more difficult to tell. They were wrapped tight in their towels, no skin was showing (thank God) but they both appeared young and their hair was all up in another towel…it was anyone’s guess. I continued to smile and looked around, trying not to appear like I was checking them out. Just then—through the glass—I see Wee Li walk by. The spa had two saunas: one dry heat and one moist. She had been sitting alone thinking I was lost.
After the sauna we each showered again, and this time I received a wrap-around robe (large enough, even, for my body) and a pair of disposable panties, packaged so tightly, I wasn’t quite sure what I was unwrapping. I am not sure what was worst, the conversation inside my head: What is this thing??? Or the discovery: YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!!!!! There were 3 holes equal in size, so I wasn’t quite sure where my legs would fit or where that LARGE American hiney of mine—with the rest of my sagging skin—would go. My next draining thought was: What if these panties WERE NOT “one size fits MOST”? And that’s when the panic set in. Dear God, they might be small, medium, and LARGE, and sweet Jesus, I WAS given the large! After a tremendous amount of noise, banging and grunting, I emerged victorious, though definitely in need of another shower. I did not give the lack of circulation to my legs much thought. After all, I was getting a massage.
I entered the dimly lit massage room, climbed onto the table and was greeted by a little Chinese girl. I surmised that the tables must be made for midgets. Remember the curled, withered legs of the Wicked Witch from the East after Dorothy’s house had landed on her and the Ruby Slippers were removed? That almost looked like what my legs resembled.
Eventually she pulled the table away from the wall.
She spoke no English, except: ok? and thank-you very much. And my Chinese consisted of: thank you; right; left; and hello.
I swear that the little girl who walked into the room was not the same person who gave the massage. I had this image of a cartoon character spinning around, becoming a superhero, and working me over running through my mind. Instead of relaxing, I was doing anything I could to keep from bursting out into fits of laughter. The more I tried to calm my thoughts, the harder she jolted my body. If only I could turn the lights on and see what type of creature was working on me.
But that segment ended. The room grew quiet. Yes, silence. Instead of dwelling on the brutality my body just endured or whatever torture “Marvel Massager” had in store for me next, I thought: Maureen, embrace the moment and drift into that relaxation stage. Don’t fall asleep; just stay awake enough to enjoy it.
Ahhh, I took a nice deep breath…
I never got to exhale!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Our superhero “Marvel Massager” leapt from the floor and onto my back. My mind could not process what just transpired. Surely, I fell off to sleep and this was a nightmare.
I realized it wasn’t when she proceeded to straddle my back and plopped down on my upper thighs. Next she whipped the towel off my waist and paused, looking over the one size fits most panties. Perhaps she was thinking that I put them on backwards; as if there were a top/bottom/front/back.
Unfortunately, it did not end there. Just as rapidly as she leaped through the air, “Marvel Massager” whipped the panties down. And just like that, she was kneading my buttocks with strength that only superheroes have.
I couldn’t imagine who would be more shocked: my mother at this story, me at what was going on, or her at my chalky white American fanny with ALL my large dimples staring back at her.
I never did quite relax; I was concentrating on not laughing out loud.
So I went back the following Tuesday; practice makes perfect.
And I continued to do so until I left China in 2007. Sha Sha and I developed quite a friendship. Among other things, I helped her with her English, and she introduced me to many fascinating Chinese traditions. As her English improved Sha Sha would tell me while kneading my tush Oh wow you lose weight I begged her; please tell me that when looking face to face and not while massaging my American derriere with all its dimples.